Judge: Zoo can open, but no horse races

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 3, 2011 - 12:24 AM
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2-year-old Liam Shamblott was in awe of the tropics fish tank with many varieties of sharks and ocean fish Wednesday afternoon.

Photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

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The zoo can reopen. The horse racing tracks can't.

In the first legal rulings to emerge since the state government shut down Friday, a judge ruled Saturday that the Minnesota Zoo can open its gates to visitors.

The zoo will reopen at 9 a.m. Sunday, zoo officials said Saturday night.

Ramsey County District Judge Kathleen Gearin agreed with the argument posed by the zoo's attorneys, who said it should be able to open using a state law that directs zoo gate revenue back to the facility. Because it has a standing appropriation, they said, it should be allowed to open.

Although the zoo isn't a "core function" of state government, it doesn't require a legislative appropriation to operate, Gearin found.

However, Canterbury Park's bid to continue horse races at its Shakopee track was shot down. Gearin issued an order denying the track management's request to be included among so-called essential state functions.

She also denied the petition filed by owners of the Running Aces harness racing track in the north metro area that would have allowed it to stay open.

In Shakopee, where the track and card club are one of the city's biggest employers, the July 4th weekend is the busiest of the year. Before the shutdown that began Friday, the track laid off 1,000 employees. About 600 employees have been laid off at the Running Aces track, which is near Forest Lake.

Both tracks were lobbying for a racino bill that would have expanded gambling in Minnesota while bringing in new revenue dedicated to chipping away at the state's $5 billion budget deficit.

Although Gearin didn't comment in her rulings on the racetrack petitions, she reiterated her previously expressed irritation that the state's judicial branch has been "forced to make emergency interpretations of numerous funding provisions" that keep state government operating.

Minnesota's executive and legislative branches, she wrote, "are the branches best suited by experience and competency to make these decisions."

Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184

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